Tuesday, April 11, 2017

THE FLY-OVER Chapter 2 by Peter Nolan Smith


“There's nothing like this in Afghanistan.” Brock had spent the last two months outside of Kandahar. shot the spreading Mississippi with his movie camera. Farm houses seemed to float on the flood plain like Huck Finn's raft.

In the 90s I had driven across the Roof of the World. There were few trees and little water, but lots of desert.

Here the unplowed fields bloomed with flowers.

"Is this going to be in your film?" I hadn't asked too many questions about his Barry Flanagan project.

"You never know what will mean something in a film." Brock was a one-man crew. Two, if he counted me as a driver. He stopped shooting. "But this film is for Barry. Imagine yourself trapped in a failing body. You'd want to see all this, wouldn't you?"

"And more." Every mile was new to me.

We traveled US 54 to Vandalia, then turned northwest to Paris on US 25. The rental Ford hit 80 on the straightaways. The V6 could go faster given the right conditions.

"Aren't you scared of police?" Brock aimed the camera at me.

Yesterday I had explained why we were on the backroads, but this was my scene for the movie and I said without taking my eyes off the straightaway, "They're out on the Interstates revenue hunting. Remember this is the deep Flyover. No one from not here comes here, except anyone who lives here, but it's not a wasteland. This is America's breadbasket, although most of the corn goes to cows."

We passed a farmhouse and Brock said, "I feel like we're in COLD BLOOD."

The Scottish filmmaker had chosen Truman Capote's opus about two drifters murdering a Kansas family as his travel book.

"We don't look anything like Hickok or Smith." The young killers had been hung at hanging at the Kansas State Penitentiary in 1965.

"Or Truman Capote."

"Not much has changed out here since then."

"And not much will in the future."

My book for this trip was ON THE ROAD. I looked more like him than the killers.

I had yet to open Kerouac's homage to America, but his trip had begun up the Hudson at the Bear Mountain Bridge. I knew it well.

"The last time I came through the Midwest was in 1994 in a Studebaker Hawk." Meg had done most of the driving.

"That's why I wanted you with me. You're American."

I pressed PLAY for Arthur Lee and Love's IF 6 WAS 9 and my foot hit the gas.

The Ford was all go.

It hit 90.

Fifty miles east of KC rain sploshed off the four-laner and I slowed to 50.

THE WIZARD OF OZ belonged to Kansas. The sky turned black.

"Stormy weather." It scared Brock.

"Nothing to worry about."

I had never seen a tornado, but I didn't need to tell Brock that.

Twenty minutes later the rain stopped and the sun broke through the clouds. Kansas City rested on a hill and a golden nimbus transform the city into Oz.

"I love America." Brock filmed two minutes of our approach.

I doubted any of it would be in his film.

"My friend, Joe, ran away to Kansas City in 1965. He was 13 and wanted to see if there were any pretty girls there."

"As Wilbert Harrison sang in the song."

"He found none and the cops sent him back to Boston."

"But he got here and here is a long way away from there."

"And that's the truth."

Downtown Kansas City mimicked St. Louis' purgatory and we booked a room in Kansas not far from the house of my old friend from the South Shore, Ray Santo. The South Shore native was free tonight and we met for ribs. Brock and I got sloppy. Ray stayed clean.

"I have to play later." Ray was a drummer in the KC scene.

"We're coming with you." Brock ordered another round. The three of us left the restaurant. Ray hailed a taxi.

"Kansas City cops hate drunk drivers."

Ray gave the driver directions.

""But not drunks," I muttered, because Kansas was next to Oklahoma and that state didn't believe in curved road, unless they were connected to a tornado.

Five minutes after we arrived at the crowded nightclub, Ray hit the stage. The band performed a tight set of country-western music. Brock yee-hahed during a break.

"How do you know Ray?"

"He went out with my sister." Ray had a Corvette. He played good hockey and shot better pool. My mother didn't approve of his dating my younger sister. "Back in 1970."

"That's almost thirty years ago."

"Yep, and I haven't seen Ray in too long." I yee-hahed and Brock joined me.

Drinking beer was good and listening to music was even better, espically since they did have pretty girls in Kansas City.

The next morning we had coffee and donuts at the motel and then I drove us to Overland Park. Flanagan's Hare statue was in the middle of the Johnson County Community College campus.

Guns were not allowed on campus.

A uniformed guard gave us a pass. Our parking space was reserved for 'visitors'. The art director met us on the walkway.

"Not many people around," said Brock.

"School's not in session. It's Spring Break."

JCCC offered its student body of 37,000 the chance of changing lives through learning. It was a big school.

"That's fine. We're here to see the Hare." Brock broke out his equipment and we entered the interior quadranlge of Administration Building.

"Well, here it is." The director stood before the 11-foot statue of a Hare on a Bell. I liked the one in St. Louis better. It was very Nijinsky.

Brock asked our host about the Hare. I made myself scarce during the interview. I liked to know nothing and pulled out my cellphone to call New York.

No one answered, so I visited the Nerman Museum attached to JCCC. The sky threatened rain and the clouds weren't telling any lies.

An hour later Brock ran to the Ford to beat a downpour. He carried the camera bag under his coat. I was listening to Dave Van Ronk's BOTH SIDES NOW and I turned down the volume, as the Scot sat in the car. Rain dripped off his hat and he wiped his face with a towel. "That was great. I interviewed seven people. They really understand the Hare."

"So they don't think it's a rabbit?"

"They think it's something much more."

"Like what?"

"Freedom and wildness."

"And those are good things."

"Always for us. so now what now?"

"North to Iowa."

"On the highway?" Brock was a little concerned about his schedule.

"Not a chance." I pulled out of the parking lot certain no one had said 'North to Iowa' in this century and more importantly I was glad to have heard it at least once in my lifetime.

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